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History and Benefits of Yoga for Runners

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Updated: February 1, 2006

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A Brief History

The history of yoga is shrouded in mystery. Some interpretations find that yoga existed in some form as early as 6000 BCE. But it was first clearly found to exist in the Hindu religious texts dating back to approximately 2000 BCE. This yoga is largely a philosophy of life, in which one tries to quiet the mind and find the “higher self’. A small portion of yoga (the philosophy) involves Asana (posture) and Pranayama (breath control). Although there are many benefits to the philosophy of yoga, these two (postures and breath control) are the main focus of yoga for cross-training runners.

Yoga has been said to have such benefits as improved body flexibility, performance, stress reduction, attainment of inner peace, and self-realization. It has been advocated as complementary treatment or behavioral therapy in cases of depression, asthma, and smoking cessation, as well as numerous other afflictions.

There are many kinds of yoga practices. Some of these include: Bikram yoga, Iyengar yoga, Kundalini yoga, and Sivanada yoga. Bikram is popularly used to increase flexibility. This can be particularly good for “tight” runners, who need to loosen up and relax their muscles. It is also thought to be an effective way to relieve arthritis or back pain. Iyengar focuses on proper body alignment. It is most useful to runners who are rehabilitating an injury. It is also an effective practice for trail runners (or any runner) who want to gain better balance and flexibility. Kundalini is generally focused on gaining concentration and higher consciousness, which can help runners with the “mental game” of racing. Sivanada is a gentle, meditative form of yoga. This yoga is great cross-training for beginners to yoga and anyone who uses exercise for relaxation.

An important thing to know about yoga is that embarking on a yoga practice without proper instruction can lead to injury. Please, be careful. Take the time to find a teacher with proper credentials and training. Yoga Alliance, a teacher-organized group, recommends at least 200 hours of expert training.

Benefits of Yoga

Mental Benefits of Yoga
  • Stress Relief
  • Prevention and Relief of Stress-Related Disorders
  • Greater Control of Emotions
  • Greater Ability to Focus and Concentrate
Physical Benefits of Yoga
  • Improved Flexibility and Balance
  • Improved Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Improved Core Strength
  • Increased Energy Levels
  • Enhanced Overall Muscle Strength
  • Enhanced Immune System
  • Improved Digestion
  • Relaxation of Muscles
  • Weight Control
Of course, there are also many spiritual and social benefits to a yoga practice.

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